Sunday, 22 March 2020

Firsts Without Mum

Mother's Day is a special day, unless your Mum is no longer around. For the first time this is the situation I find myself in, following my Mum's passing last September.

Mum really hadn't been well since 2011, when she had been formally diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and subsequently blindness. In 2017 I was told her health had deteriorated further. The Mum that I saw then was bedridden, enduring kidney failure, deprived of her sight and seemingly always in discomfort if not outright pain.

Consequently when my Step Dad told me six months ago that Mum had passed away it was sudden, but it wasn’t altogether a shock. Naturally, this doesn’t make it any less horrifically final. I had anticipated there would be an occasion where I would be told “Mum has so long left,” but that never transpired.

Grieving has been odd. Due to Spanish custom Mum was buried the day after she died, and due to a number of factors I wasn’t able to make my way out there for her funeral (N.B. I think this is an important consideration for anyone else who thinks about retiring to Spain who might not otherwise be aware of it). In recent days I’ve realised that I don’t even have anywhere near home that is a favourite place of Mum’s, or somewhere that I would equate with her. Never mind a grave, there’s nowhere nearby for me to remember her.

To begin with I was a bit concerned about how I felt after Mum died. Even now I’ve not shed a single tear (although my eyes watered when I remembered threatening the magician who called her up to help with a trick at one of my birthday parties with a toy gun), to the point where I’ve wondered what’s wrong with me. I can try and justify that by saying that she’s no longer suffering (which I absolutely believe), but due to not being at her funeral and not even having anywhere locally to remember her I do wonder if it still hasn’t properly hit me yet.

In recent days, and even in the course of typing this, I feel like it has hit me, but in unexpected ways. I’m living life in somewhat of a malaise. My motivation has been lacking, in just about every respect of life. Self-care, in regard to simple things like going to bed at a sensible time, hasn’t been evident.

Is this just due to Mum's passing? Separate to anything else, this is a very significant life event. It is one which most of us go through, and it inevitably leads to a period of introspection. Certainly I’ve thought lots of times about how her last few years should not have been the way they were.

The past six months have been a slow-winding road of going through events which would have been significant to her. Her wedding anniversary, a birthday (she died shortly before she would have turned 70) a Christmas. Perhaps the toughest moment to this point was my eldest’s recent parents' night at school, where all her teachers glowed about what a great kid she is and how they want her to continue with their subject. In past years I’ve always been quick to proudly pass that onto Mum, only this year I couldn’t, and to be perfectly honest that sucked.

All of these events have been in their own way different and difficult, but not as much as I anticipate Mother’s Day being for me, because this is a day that only she and I shared. That’s all part of both the burden and privilege of being someone’s only child. I remember now when my Gran died my Aunt saying about missing her Mum even at the age of 58. In my personal experience this is the same regardless of age. Young or old, it is nice to run things past your Mum, share good news with her, anything and everything. Lacking the ability to do that leaves an enormous gap.

I look back and realise only now how valuable my Mum's support of me was. Too often I would think "Of course you're going to say that, you're my Mum," instead of thinking how nice it was that her support was there. Too often I would think about how my Dad wasn't supportive, or that validation from my peers was more important (in that in some form you had to earn it). While in some ways this is something you have to figure this out yourself, I think I still could have appreciated it more.

In later years physical distance did make things a bit more difficult. After moving to Spain in 1998 Mum never came back to Britain. She wasn’t at my wedding. She didn’t really have a relationship with her daughter-in-law, and by her own choice never met her granddaughters. Friends made jokes about my parents not existing, which I couldn’t even return fire in a jokey way about because I understood why people would think that. My impression was that people thought I wasn’t close to my Mum because of that, when in fact I understood it all too well. I knew how many people had hurt Mum, and just how many people she never wanted to see again.

Nobody hurt my Mum more than my Dad did. She always feared him turning up at her door, even in a remote corner of Spain that you could not simply stumble upon. While I don’t think I ever thought it was particularly rational, that showed just how he was a dark cloud over her life, even from hundreds of miles away. Thankfully from my point of view her final eighteen months were free of that fear after I had belatedly been told my Dad’s own passing.

I’m at least glad that I put aside the time for more frequent, regular contact with her in her later years. We had become more like peers, I sensed more respect for some decisions I made (even while I protected her from particular life events), and less comparisons with my Dad. Her mind was sharp right up to and including the last time I spoke to her. Given her physical condition, I’m still not sure if that was a blessing or a curse.

Either way, I’ll always feel that Mum should have had a longer, healthier and happier retirement. Whether that was due to all the years that she smoked, not being active enough, something else or just bad luck I’ll never know (I was told they typically don’t carry out post mortems in Spain, so I don’t know the reason for why she died - another thing you should know if you’re considering retiring to Spain). Despite her suffering she loved life, right up to the end. She still had a lot to give and a lot of wisdom to impart. I’m thankful for what she passed on. Thank you Mum, miss you always.

No comments: